Platoon (1986) (R)

Though Charlie Sheen serves as the protagonist for Oliver Stone's award winning Vietnam War film, he is not the central character. Nor is Tom Berenger or Willem Dafoe. There is no main character to "Platoon" though Sheen, as Martin Sheen did in "Apocalypse Now", gives us the only voice over in the film. Ironically enough, the film anticipates Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" with the way it floats from person to person, having long scenes without Sheen's presence needed.
"Platoon" is more about the communal impact that war has, namely how it turned men into savages. Stone himself served in Vietnam, which must have had a terrifying impact on him because "Platoon" wouldn't be alone in the films he made on the subject. As such, Vietnam is portrayed as a mistake, a large one. Not exactly a subtle man, Stone dives straight into the thick of the war, pulling out the idea, raising is triumphantly above his head, that the system is corrupt and must die.
The movie opens as a plane sets down in Vietnam and Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) steps out while Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" swells's basically cheating. Though the song is best known coming from Stone's film it was used in several films prior, including David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" and one of the genesis piece in gay cinema "A Very Natural Thing".
As soon as the men get off the plane lands, Chris is met with the atrocities of war. Body bags line the air strip and some of the men comment: "Aw, man, is that what I think it is?"
We cut to the men working their way through the jungle, sweating and being attacked by the bugs. From this scene to the next to the one after that, "Platoon" firmly stakes the idea of a non-plot. Sure Chris has orders to follow and we generally get the idea of war, but it's a very meandering plot, one that doesn't follow a strict sequence of events—this much is purposeful.
We are supposed to empathize with Chris as he writes letters to his grandmother about how terrible/exciting war is at first. It's a new experience and not one that Chris enjoys, but it is entertaining to him. Being a new recruit he is treated as fresh meat, getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop one too many times.
In the camp there is a system failure. Sgt. Barnes, Sgt. Elias, and Sgt. O'Neill all have more experience and practicality than there commanding officer, Lt. Wolfe. Wolfe is a man who likes to give the orders, though he may not know how to give them. He makes horrible decisions, mainly because we see him as a more naive character. Barnes is a ruthless man, the truest embodiment of the war in the movie. Everything this man does I see as being metaphorical. O'Neill is the coward of the lot. The big-mouthed guy who goes along with whoever he picks as the winning side. We don't really care for Barnes and O'Neill.
Then there's Elias (Willem Dafoe), the man we all like. He's a very curious character with an oddity sexuality that Stone makes pains to observe. One scene has the men getting high in a shack, certain things happen that lead us to believe that Elias could not be as manly as all the people think. If you want my opinion, which you may not but brace yourselves anyway, I think Elias is a female character. Not that he is actually a woman, but that he is a maternal figure for the men and for all purposes, their mother...or a one who consoles the men at least.
Chris begins to understand Vietnam a little better with each passing day. The jungle becomes a hideous place, something to despise. The men turns into animals, if Freud were to watch he would say that war brings out the Id in men—it would seem that Stone agrees as well.
Radically anti-war, Americans have never looked so terrible in a film about Americans. This is probably because Stone blames war for this...not his own country.
Fran├žois Truffaut made a famous statement about a true anti-war film being unachievable to film. The action of war is a very stimulating event. Indeed, the men in "Platoon" seem to exemplify this, some of them taking relish in bludgeoning innocents to death or raping children—but does this make "Platoon" even more anti-war? Yes.
The first time I saw the movie, I was in tears. The second time, I was less impressed by it. It's still a great film, one of the best war movies made, but it does lake a little subtlety. Stone's own bitterness really shines through.

Score: ★★★½

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